When I first read that some Catholics regard President Obama as more Catholic than -- oh, say, Archbishop Chaput -- I thought that was just plain nuts. In an article in America, Fr. John W. O'Malley, SJ, just may identify the root cause of the insanity:
The [Second Vatican C]ouncil spoke in a new style, a style different from all previous councils... It employed words that espoused a new model for Christian behavior... words like brothers and sisters, cooperation, partnership, human family, conscience, collegiality and especially dialogue...
The shift in vocabulary had profound ramifications. It meant a shift in values and priorities. Critical among these new values was civility in dealing with persons of different faiths or convictions and a willingness to listen to them with docile heart and mind. This civility was not a superficial tactic but a manifestation of an inner conversion. It of course did not mean surrendering one's beliefs, but it did mean a willingness to learn from others and a refusal to condemn them without a hearing. Such openness of mind and heart is the essence of genuine dialogue. [emphasis added]
Set aside, for the moment, the question of the extent to which Vatican II espoused a new model (new, that is, "to council vocabulary") for Christian behavior. The important point here, I think, is that progressive Catholics have accepted such a model as an essential aspect of the spirit of Vatican II.
It follows, then, that when a president whom progressive Catholics are already crazy about uses words like "cooperation," "partnership," and especially "dialogue", they can't help but be reminded of [the spirit of] Vatican II. And if that president uses those words often, then it will be perfectly natural for them to say, with Fr. O'Malley and with all evident sincerity, "We have a Vatican II president."
Now if we go back to the question of the extent to which Vatican II espoused a new model for Christian behavior, we might at least agree that a shift in vocabulary (to the extent there is one) means ... well, something. (I think it means the Council Fathers believed the Church was ready to move past the Counter-Reformation, but what do I know?)
And if when the Church uses words like "cooperation," "partnership," and especially "dialogue," it means something -- perhaps even something with profound implications -- then it's easy to assume that when a president you're already crazy about uses those same words, it also means something. Perhaps something with profound implications, but at the very least a manifestation of an inner conversion. It certainly can't be a superficial tactic.